Re-Post: Cracking the Multi-Generational Worship Nut

Throughout the month of April I am taking a break from writing in order to focus on other things.  As a result I am re-posting some of my most popular articles.

Recently I enjoyed listening to a Worship Team Training podcast dealing with the issue of multi-generational worship, and it got me thinking about my own experiences in dealing with multi-generational worship.

Multi-generational usually means multi-stylistic, because every generation has “their” music.  More is at stake here than music, but we will keep to music for now.

Every church has to decide how they are going to approach this issue.

Here are a few approaches to multi-generational worship:

One service, many styles

Some churches call this style of worship blended.  Add two parts rock, 1 part hymns, and 3 parts country, mix with ice and good old Gospel, and purée.  What comes out is blended, but not much of anything else.  Bland comes to mind.  Spiritually this can look a lot like unity=uniformity.

Other churches go for a more eclectic style of worship, attempting to mix authentic styles side by side in the same service.  At a previous church we once performed Bach and U2 in the same service.  Challenging, but rewarding.  Unity does not equal uniformity in this model.

Still other churches have a radio station style of worship: one style one Sunday and another the next.

Many services, many styles

Many churches choose to have preferential worship: multiple services catering to individual styles.  Modern and Classic; Contemporary and Traditional; Contemporary, Rock and Traditional; many mixtures exist, each attempting to accurately match the primary preferences of the congregation.

The message is the same, but the packaging is different.  More media for the Contemporary worshippers, less media and more liturgy for Traditional worshippers, and so forth.

One service, one style

These churches are usually laser focused on a mission to reach a particular demographic.  They choose to limit their offerings with the goal of providing better quality and connection with less on their plate.  Names like seeker and missional get thrown around here.

One style for adults, one style for youth

Any of the above churches can choose to have simultaneous separate youth services, lessening the pressure to have widely varying styles in the main worship services.

Some churches have separate youth services just so that they can address the same topics in a more youth-friendly way.

What’s right for us?

How can you know which to choose?  Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Who is attending your church?  Always begin with who you have.  If regular attendees are not engaged, guests will not be drawn in.  Find out what kinds of music your core people like and use that music.
  2. Who are you trying to reach?  If you are primarily a church for senior citizens, don’t play David Crowder Band.  Pull out the organ.
  3. What can your church do?  If your musicians consist of a rock vocalist, an accordion player, and a tuba player, you might want to avoid playing Bach.  Just a suggestion.  Work with what you have and be realistic.
  4. What do you, the leader, like?  Do not lead music you cannot authentically own.  This is not to say you should never learn music outside your comfort zone.  You must always be willing to grow and try new things.  You must, however, be honest about your tastes and views.  If you think a piece of music has really bad lyrics and you cannot sing it with a straight face, admit it and make a change.  If the pastor consistently wants you to do music that makes you grimace, either you two need to have a heart to heart or you need to go.

Funny story.

Choir members at a previous church will remember the Easter I decided to end the service with the Hallelujah Chorus, but precede it with a ripping Brooklyn Tabernacle tune.

I have done a number of successful classical + other style pairings, but this one was ill fated.  The Brooklyn Tab tune was a fast paced, big band Gospel number with screaming high trumpet parts and a full jazz horn and rhythm section.  It was hot.

The Hallelujah Chorus was not.

I should have known.  When I did the two songs back to back in rehearsal I started involuntarily laughing to myself, and when I led it on Easter Sunday several weeks later I cringed each service when I made the transition.

Picture it: loud, raucous, upbeat praise song slams to a halt with a big hit, and then . . .  Ba-dum-bum ba-da-dum . . . In comes the polite, Baroque-styled strings announcing with starched collar, “Hallelujah . .”

You won’t always get it right, but don’t avoid the issue.  Make a choice about how you are going to deal with the multi-generational issue and see how it goes.  You can always change it.

How do you deal with multi-generational worship in your church?

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4 Ways Worship Has Nothing to Do with Church

Did you know that church services and everything we do in those services are not necessary for worship?  Did you know that even if you were stranded on a desert island with only a box of Wheaties and a plastic shovel you would still be able to worship just as deeply as you do every Sunday morning in your comfortable seat at your favorite church?

Tiger Woods Box of Wheaties

We humans get very attached to things.

Not long ago a staff member at church told the story of how a family came to church early to get a seat.  As the family was standing and talking, someone else came up and said, “That’s where I usually sit,” pointing to one of the family’s reserved seats.

When the family pointed out that many seats were available right around them, the person said, “But I always sit here.”

We laugh, but you know that each of us also has our own area where we like to whine and say, “But I always (fill in the blank).”

Worship ultimately has nothing to do with the things we hold so dear.  Here are four ways worship transcends the boxes we create for our worship experiences:

  1. Worship begins with gratitude.  Every time you thank God for something you are worshipping him.  All good things come from God, said John the Apostle.
  2. Worship is a heart response to the gift of God.  No particular posture or physical symbol or music required; just a heart responding to God.
  3. Worship grows from a relationship with God.  In the beginning God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden.  This was pre-sacrifical worship, pre-Christ, pre-everything we try to cram into a worship service.  God wants you to know him and rely on him.
  4. Worship is loving your neighbor.  We honor God by loving and caring for those we meet on a day to day basis, regardless whether or not they are loveable in our perspective.

While projection and music and offerings and prayers and preaching all help us to worship, those things are not the essence of worship; they are tools.  Let’s not worship the tools; instead let’s dig to the root of things and worship Christ.

What things are you attached to that weaken your worship?

Choosing Songs for Worship

Music selection is one of the worship leader’s most visible jobs. Worship leaders are also vilified more for music selection than for anything else.

  • That song has weak theology.
  • The melody is unsingable.
  • That song has way too many words; I can’t get them all out in time at that tempo.
  • The music had absolutely nothing to do with the message.
  • Why don’t they sing more hymns?
  • Why don’t they sing more new music?

You don’t have to be a worship leader to recognize those questions. Perhaps you have even asked one of them.

I know I have.

So how do you choose music for the service?

  1. Remember that you can’t please everyone. If you pursue the path of pleasing people you will run into lots of problems. You are accountable to God, yourself, and the senior pastor; no one else.
  2. Find out the information for the service ahead of time. If the pastor does not have a practice of planning in advance, work with him to facilitate his planning, explaining the value of knowing those things ahead of time.
  3. Pray. Always pray. God is the ultimate creative, and he knows what he wants to do through you.
  4. Know your church’s tastes. If you are leading worship at a country cowboy church, don’t begin with a Prelude from Bach’s 1st suite for solo cello. Pick music that they can identify with.
  5. Begin with God. Almost always you should begin a service with a song that points us directly to the attributes and greatness of God. We have spent the week fighting the noise of life; worship is our opportunity to reset our perspectives on God.
  6. Begin up-tempo. I almost always begin with a faster song. I just like that. People arrive at church groggy and half awake; they need musical caffeine.
  7. Work towards songs that are more personal, intimate prayers.
  8. Guide the themes of the songs towards the theme of the service so that when the pastor gets up to speak the people are ready to hear what he has to say.
  9. Break rules 4 through 8. Never be afraid to try something different.

How do you select songs for a worship service?

How to Adapt a Song for Your Band

The worship music world is full of highly produced and densely layered recordings.  How does one listen to a song and adapt that song for their band without using loops and backing tracks?

Electric Guitar

Our worship band is presently without a regular guitarist, something I have not experienced in quite a few years.  Since most of the modern worship songs are guitar driven, we are adapting songs every week.

Here are two steps to guide you when you find yourself in a similar situation.

  1. Find the shape of the song.  By shape I mean the emotional and lyrical direction of the piece.  Does the song follow an arc pattern, building to the middle and relaxing from there to the end?  Does the song grow from beginning to the very end?  Or is the song one feel without much variation?
  2. Mimic the shape.  If the song starts soft and builds, begin with just one instrument and a solo voice.  At each verse add another instrument or voice.  Have the drums start with just cymbals and hi-hat, then let the drummer build to a full groove.  Play a pad on the keyboard and switch to piano or organ at a higher emotional point.  Have the vocals begin in unison and add harmony at the chorus or a later verse.

Your band is not an on/off switch.

Your band consists of a certain number of instruments and voices.  Please do not begin every song with everyone singing harmony and every instrument hammering away.  Thoughtfully choose which instruments and which voices start and what voices and instruments enter in what particular order.

You are the leader and you are orchestrating the music as you go.

Imagine John Williams writing the music for Star Wars.  Instead of arranging the instruments and sounds the way he did, what if he had walked in, plopped down a bunch of music in front of everyone, and told them to play whenever and as loud as they want?  Would we want to listen to the music?

Probably not.

Any person can lead music like that, but it takes an artist to carefully construct the sound their band or orchestra or choir makes.

This week take one song and play it a completely different way.  Be creative.  Make a plan for everyone to come in differently than they have in the past and see how it sounds.

Be an artist, not someone flipping a switch.

How do you adapt songs for your musicians?

When God Becomes a Show-Stopper

What would it be like for the glory of God to fill our churches on a Sunday morning to such an extent that we would not be able to continue the service?

Exactly that scenario happened thousands of years ago when King Solomon dedicated the new temple.  His father, King David, had spent years preparing the plans and provisions for building the temple before Solomon became king.  After Solomon became king it still took him over four years to finish preparing to build the temple, after which it took another seven years to actually build the temple.

Once the temple was finally built the Ark of the Covenant was brought from the Tent of Meeting, which had been in use since it was constructed in the wilderness under the guidance of God and Moses, to the new temple on Mount Moriah.  On the way King Solomon sacrificed so many sheep and oxen that they lost count!  Then the Ark was placed under the tall, gold-plated cherubim in the temple’s Most Holy Place and the priests came back out to do their duties.

At that time all of the musicians along with 120 trumpeters led worship singing

“For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

At that moment

“the house [of the Lord] was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.”  2 Chronicles 5:13b-14 ESV

Wow.  I have heard of people pastors and other people stopping a service because God told them to.  I have been present when services were stopped because of technical snaffoos.  I have even been present when services were stopped because of fire alarms.

But I have never been present in a service when God stopped the service himself by just moving in and making it physically impossible to lead in worship.

What would that be like?

The Contemporary English Version says “The light from [God’s glory] was so bright the priests could not stay inside to do their work.”  2 Chronicles 5:14

After Solomon prayed fire fell from heaven and burned up the sacrifices.

The people fell down and worshipped.  There was probably such a sense of awe from God’s show of power that the people could not help but bow down and worship.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the people were even terrified.  Imagine if God showed up on the platform at church and said to the pastor, “Move over, buddy.  I’ve got something to say.”  I think we all would be awestruck and terrified.

Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord in Isaiah 6 and he is immediately aware of his sinfulness.  I imagine some of the people became painfully aware of the sin in their life when the holy God of the universe showed up.

I expect that kind of encounter with God would be very emotional, the kind of thing that would make the your hair stand on end.  Any time you get 120 trumpeters and a large number of other singers and instrumentalists together in the same worship service you are going to get an emotional response simply because of the sheer volume.

Fortunately it was outside, but that barely lessens the sound.  Imagine the soundtrack for the yearly 4th of July fireworks display.  That’s probably the right category for this thunderous worship service.  In his book Worship on Earth as It Is in Heaven Rory Noland makes the comment that many of us may be surprised when we get to heaven by the volume of the worship.  It will not be quiet.  Millions of people singing and playing instruments at the same time makes for decibel-meter-breaking volume.

Shock can probably be expected.  People showed up that day expecting to see a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a lot of bloody sacrifices, and a lot of pomp and circumstance.  Imagine the local butcher putting the sign in the door, “Back in 1 hour,” and thinking the whole time of all the work that needs to be done, the carcasses hanging back at the shop waiting to be cut up and sold.

Then God shows up.

When God tears the fabric of time and space and physically appears, shock follows.  That kind of reality is a shock to the system.  Suddenly the work at the office isn’t that important.  Suddenly the argument with your friend or spouse seems trivial.  Suddenly your craving for the latest iThing seems really silly.

Then God.

I am thinking right now that my commitment to God can probably be measured by the size of the shock I would experience if God appeared before me.  If I am just doing my own thing then God’s presence would be greatly disturbing.  If, on the other hand, I am living a life that is, to use the words of Philippians 4, true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise, I really do not have anything to worry about.

Caveat: if you have not placed your faith in Christ for salvation, no amount of good living will prepare you for the presence of God.  Nothing you do can win you a place in heaven.  Good living just gets you a place at the back of the line.  God’s gift of salvation received by faith alone is all that guarantees a relationship with God and home in heaven.

So how about you?

How would you react if God appeared in your worship service and took over?

A Leader’s Two Best Friends

As I mentioned previously I recently began a new position as Interim Director of Worship at Covenant Life Church in Sarasota, FL.  This position is my first step back into senior level leadership since 2009, and while I am excited about what God is going to do, I also know I have challenges ahead of me.

As a result I have been spending a lot of time writing and thinking about what it takes to grow a worship ministry.  So far I have written about

In order to lead well, however, I am finding I need to have close friends.  These friends are not the financial officer of my church, the executive pastor, the senior pastor, or even the chairman of the elder board, although good relationships with these leaders are highly necessary.

I have written several times about my mistakes when I began a new position in 2010.  I plowed ahead with my agenda, pulling everyone with me.  When I finally began to listen to my volunteers I was able to make changes and avoid burning everyone out.  I would have done well to engage the help of two friends right from the start.

These two friends are Questions and Observation.

Questions

Making questions your friend means focusing on asking questions rather than making statements.  Questions do several things:

  • Invite interaction.  A good question fosters communication and collaborative effort.
  • Demonstrate humility.  Asking a question shows people you do not have it all figured out and you are willing to learn.
  • Unearth information.  Obviously, asking a question guarantees you will learn more about those around you.  Refusing to ask questions prevents you from truly understanding your surroundings.
  • Direct discussion.  Sometimes the best way to lead a discussion is to asking a carefully crafted question.
  • Create ownership.  If you engage a volunteer in conversation with a question, that volunteer will own the ensuing decision.

Observation

Observing people and systems reveals critical information you will not discover by reading the employee handbook or studying staff biographies.  Here are just a few benefits of observation:

  • Reveals hidden attitudes.  Body language comprises the majority of our communication.  Watching body language in a conversation gives a much better picture of what the other person is thinking and feeling.
  • Reveals unresolved issues.  Avoidance, for instance, can communicate unresolved tension or a lack of interdependence between separate ministries or departments. Other behaviors such as sarcasm, avoiding eye contact, or abrupt communication can also tell you that something is not right.
  • Reveals broken systems.  If I observe, for instance, that the song lyrics displayed on Sunday are not in the correct order, I discover that either I did not give the proper information to the projectionist, the projectionist was not at rehearsal to fine tune the lyrics, the projectionist messed up during the service, or I made a change from the stage and the projectionist was not able to follow.  That observation can lead to a discussion that will improve the flow of information and guarantee better projection on Sunday.
  • Reveals pain.  If you observe that a co-worker or volunteer is more subdued than usual, a good question can often lead to an encouraging discussion and even prayer.  Worship leaders need to be particularly observant of the people they are leading in worship in order to respond and lead more effectively during the service.  Many people are hurting and need to know they are not alone.
  • Shows that you are listening.  In order to observe you have to stop talking and listen.  I am amazed at what I hear and understand when I shut my mouth and listen.  People love a listener, as I am certain you do, too.
  • Reveals what is going well.  As a teacher I was often reminded to “Catch someone doing something right.”  This rule applies in leadership as well.  Catch your volunteers doing something right and congratulate them.  Smile and cheer when your choir shapes a phrase correctly.  Be a cheerleader for your volunteers, friends and family and they will follow you wherever you go.

What other “friends” have helped you in leadership? 

Growing Your Understanding of Worship

Recently I have been talking about ways to grow your ministry, beginning with last week’s Six Steps for Taking Your Worship Ministry to the Next Level and then continuing with What Is a Win for Your Ministry?  Today I want to focus on resources you can use as you study worship.

Leaders learn.  Study and reading set the true leader apart from the poser.

For a long time I read very little outside of what was required to do my job.  These were a few of my excuses:

  • I had too many urgent things on my to-do list
  • I was too tired in the evening to think
  • I was too tired in the morning to think
  • I had too many family obligations

Not that I don’t like to read.  I have always enjoyed reading.  Reading, and learning in particular, had just slid down to the bottom of my scale of importance.  Reading takes time and focus, and time and focus only come with intentionality.

In the last year I have been reading a lot more, and here are a few reasons why:

  • I am prioritizing learning
  • I am watching fewer movies
  • I have begun using audio books through Audible so that I can listen when I am driving or when my eyes are tired

Studying Worship

If you are ready to engage your mind more consistently through reading, then you are ready to grow your ministry.  Growth will not come without learning.

Here are a few resources to consider:

Worship on Earth as It Is in Heaven, by Rory Noland
Rory walks us through practical steps on how to worship personally and corporately and why this is important.  Contains helpful discussion points.  Useful as a small group study.

The Dialogue of Worship, by Gary A. Furr and Milburn Price
Furr and Price explore ways of “creating space for revelation and response” within the worship service.  An in-depth discussion of the dialogue between God and community and within the community itself.  For personal study.

The Way of a Worshipper, by Buddy Owens
This concise book is an easily read and absorbed study of worship as a response to God’s mercy.  Useful for small group study.  I also use this book as devotional material for rehearsals.

The Unquenchable Worshipper, by Matt Redman
Now over 10 years old this small volume is a “a passionate call for a return to an unadulterated, first-love lifestyle of worship.”  Useful for small group study.  I also use this book as devotional material for rehearsals.

The Heart of the Artist, by Rory Noland
Rory’s classic work has been the basis of studies for worship artists around the country.  “The Heart of the Artist deals head-on with issues every person in an arts ministry faces.”  Excellent discussion questions.  Useful for artist small group study.

The Wonder of Worship, by Ronald B. Allen
Allen’s book covers theological issues surrounding worship in a winsome and easy to read manner, and then follows those discussions up with an extension section dedicated to practical concerns of worship leadership.  Excellent for personal study.

What books have helped you in your study of worship?